25 November 2010: Dark clouds are gathering as free bus passes are the latest target for spending cuts.
The Government is now planning to reduce spending on concessionary fares by changing the way that bus operators are reimbursed for carrying passengers with free bus passes. On the surface it looks like a technical change, but the devil is in the detail. The upshot is that those longer, rural routes most used by the elderly could face the axe and fares for other passengers are expected to increase as operators try to make up the loss in revenue. This plan could leave countryside communities cut off from essential services.
We are talking about a loss of £68 - £133 million (PDF) in bus funding at least, as a result of this change alone. And this is only the latest funding cut for buses. Already we know that the tax break on fuel for buses will be shaved by 20% in 2012 (PDF), and local authorities are struggling to provide essential bus services as their coffers are further and further squeezed. All in all, Britain’s bus services are facing a perfect storm of cuts, and it’s the most vulnerable bus passengers who look set to take the hardest hit.
That is why this week we are putting pressure on Norman Baker (PDF), the Minister for buses, to rethink the changes to the concessionary fares scheme. We’ve let him know that don’t think he should let the elderly and isolated take the biggest hit from transport spending cuts.
Short term savings on buses are a false economy, because of knock-on negative impacts for local economies, for communities and of course for the environment. At a time when people up and down the UK are feeling the pinch the Government should be using the opportunity to promote buses as a cheap and efficient transport option, not cutting them. The talk is of savings to help us ride out the choppy economic waters, but with cuts coming from all sides, there is a real risk that our local bus services will sink beneath the waves.
Watch this space for more information about our planned campaign to save local bus services from the effects of national cuts.